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Friday, August 29, 2014

Re-reading Now...The Songkiller Saga

Here I am, in the middle of the Aurealis judging and I'm re-reading. I have read as far as I can with the books I have - I won't read the new Brotherband book till I've caught up with the others, I'm getting there... Still have Brotherband 3 to read before picking up 4. This week a courier left a message on my doormat, so I will have to phone before I can get my next bunch of books.

But I discovered that my old Elizabeth Scarborough favourite, the Songkiller Saga, is available in ebook, only $3.99 a volume. I remember discovering the first volume, The Phantom Banjo, on a remainders table. It wasn't out of print. Ironically, the only volume I had trouble getting was the final one, Strum Again? 

Finally, though, I had the lot, and what a story it was, with Hell deciding to wipe out folk music because it kept humans hopeful. Folk musicians forget the words or are killed off, the entire Library of Congress archive is burned down. It only seems to be happening in the US for the time being, though, so a bunch of intrepid musicians escape to Britain, where their songs came from, to retrieve them. 

I have always loved folk music, but this trilogy opened my eyes to just how much there is out there, including some songs that I hadn't realised were traditional or that were from places other than the British Isles. The books of Charles De Lint have also done this for me, and he gets a brief mention in this series. I ended up buying a lot of CDs as a result of reading these books - Songkiller and De Lint alike(I had the privilege of doing a panel with him once, at a Swancon, and hearing him and his wife jamming with Anne Poore, a local harpist)

So now I'm re-reading and loving it just as much as the first time around. I may just download some more  Scarborough books when I've finished. She's written some lovely stuff over the years and I haven't read all of it. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Free Ebooks From This Site

If you take a look at the side of this page, among all the links to my reviewing policy and such, you'll find some things I've ebooked for you and put on Dropbox. I don't know how long it has been since anyone downloaded any of them - it's too easy not to notice stuff on the side - but there's some good stuff there. There are free samples from two of my books. There are some of my published stories. There is a book of interviews with the likes of Juliet Marillier and Marianne De Pierres, Charlie Higson and Mark Walden and Melbourne writer Gabrielle Wang and CBCA judges Tehani Wessely and Miffy Farqharson. There's a little book of student writing so you know what good stuff is happening in the western suburbs of Melbourne.

Help yourself! And do let me know what you think.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

ASIM Needs Slushreaders!

Some months ago, I posted to ask for new members of the ASIM Association. We got some and have some wonderful new team members.

Now, we need some more slush readers. Actually, we always need more slush readers!

Really, considering how few slush readers there are, we get through an awful lot of submissions. Hundreds a month. Thousands a year. Some are very short, others up to 20,000 words! Some of us are reading unlimited weekly submissions and still Lucy the slush wrangler tells me she has twenty parked in her files that she can't send out. I only read three a week, six in an emergency, but I have books to read for the Aurealis Awards. I can't take on any more.

How about it, my readers? Ever thought you'd like to see behind the scenes of a publishing enterprise? Have you wondered how we sort through stories submitted, perhaps including yours?Here's your chance to find out, and to have your say in what goes up to the next round of reading.

Even if you want to go on submitting your work, that's fine; we read all stories blind. And you'd learn what we want and what we don't. Don't have much time? One a week is fine!

You don't have to live in Australia or be an expert. You just have to love  speculative fiction.

We can't pay you, only add your name to the list at the end of each issue. But it's a good thing to add to your résumé and if you do happen to be looking for a job in publishing, a good way to keep your hand in while you look.

If you're interested please email Lucy Zinkiewicz at asimsubmissions@gmail.com.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Machine Wars By Michael Pryor. Sydney: Random House, 2014

Disclaimer: I received this book for judging of the Aurealis Awards children's section. Anything I say in this review is my own opinion and nothing to do with the awards, the Aurealis committee or the children's section of the AAs. It's just me, because I couldn't resist reviewing. It's what I do.

Teenager Bram Argent comes home from school one day to find his parents are gone. He knows what this means: his mother, a brilliant AI scientist, has done something that has gone out of control. She needs three weeks to put it right. The family has an agreed plan for what Bram should do if this happens.

With a schoolfriend, Stella, and a wisecracking AI toy duck called Bob, he is now on the run, at least till his parents have done what needs doing to stop the crazed virtual being Ahriman...

Who has seen the Dr Who episode Terror Of The Autons? In the 1970s, when it was made, there was a common product that was simply everywhere - plastic. Anything from a garden hose to a plastic daffodil could attack you and a comfy chair could get too comfortable and swallow you!

Have a guess what the "simply-everywhere" product is now? Right! The Internet. Wifi. Everything is linked up. Even a pool cleaner can be connected. Some time ago I read of a fridge that would let you know when it needed restocking.

Now imagine that pool cleaning hose or fridge being sent after you. A kettle. A coffee machine. A photocopier - anything with links to the WWW - spitting out boiling hot metal. Scary, isn't it?

It's what happens to Bram and Stella. They need to stay alive and running long enough for Mrs Argent to produce something to destroy Ahriman, her own creation. If caught, they will be hostages at best, slaughtered at worst, on the orders of a creature that has become self-aware and wants to take over the world. And its "junkbots" are becoming more and more smooth and properly built.

The book is great fun, with nonstop action and humour. It's not The Laws Of Magic, but it isn't meant to be. Despite the age of the main characters - fourteen - it's really a middle-grade book, quite accessible and readable to primary school children, who will enjoy it.

Judging Has Begun: A Learning Experience

Just saying here that all this is my own opinion and has nothing to do with what the AA judging panel thinks or is deciding! And no, you will not hear from me here any juicy gossip about what we're discussing or who thinks what. This is just about what it's like to be a first-time judge, with bits about the CBCAs.

Judging the Aurealis Awards has been a fascinating experience so far. When I haven't been wrestling with the difficulties of making changes in the spreadsheet I've been reading the submissions for the children's section so far.

It's a mixture, so far, of middle-grade, junior and YA that has probably also been entered for the children's AND fantasy sections to give it a better chance. 

I've been finding this all a learning process - there are criteria, of course, including a "yes, but is it really suitable for children of this age?" field in the spreadsheet, but so far, we haven't gone into whether or not books we consider aren't really for younger readers  should be judged. And then there's one writer whose books read like YA but are also read by many, many primary school children. Middle grade? I think so.  Another whose characters are a bit older than the target audience, but whose book definitely IS middle grade.

Doing this, though, I've come to see the wisdom of dividing into sections. In the CBCA Awards, all the judges have to read ALL the books, totalling in the hundreds. It usually works because the judges are mostly high-profile teacher-librarians who can't stop for a minute and get bored if they have five minutes' break. I've interviewed two on this web site, Miffy Farquharson and Tehani Wessely, and both say they'd do it again without hesitation. 

To be honest, I don't think I could. I don't have the knowledge of everything from picture books to literary novels that espouse "beautiful writing" at the expense of story and character. I have a good idea of what my own students enjoy and why, but that's all. And I don't have the time. I really don't. Apart from class preparation and such, reading hundreds of books by other people wouldn't leave time for my own writing. It's also why I limit the number of slush stories I read for ASIM.

But yesterday, when the Little Bookroom sent out a survey from the CBCA on how people feel about the current structure of the awards, and one of the questions was about whether the judging should be split into sections I said that it works for the Aurealis Awards and would give judges the time to focus on the area they know most about instead of trying to judge absolutely everything. 

It was an interesting survey that gave me the chance to have my say on a lot of things I've been thinking for years. Politely, of course. 

It will be good to see whether anything comes out of it.

Browsing My Old Trek Fanzines


Anyone reading this who knows me personally or has been following this blog for long enough will be aware that I was once a writer of media fan fiction - Star Trek (mostly the original series, though I did write a few crossovers when the first spinoff came out. Just a few.  And that was because original-series characters sometimes appeared in STNG). Blake's 7, a series fondly remembered by anyone old enough to have seen it and probably unknown to others, except the occasional child named Cally, Dayna or whoever, after a character in the show. One or two Dr Who stories. Quite a few based on the fantasy series Robin Of Sherwood, though I was put off the fan fic of that universe when so many writers got enthusiastically into The White Goddess for their inspiration. I mean, I love The White Goddess, but you can overdo it. And most of them really hadn't done their research. I at least did. And when I published my own Robin Of Sherwood fanzine, Under The Greenwood Tree, I asked a contributor to rewrite just a bit to fix a glaring historical inaccuracy. 

But mostly Star Trek. Today I found an issue of the Austrek club fanzine, SPOCK, which was published until Paramount started to close down fanzines based on the series, in countries where there wasn't the loophole that allowed other countries to continue publishing. While Gene Roddenberry was alive, he allowed it, unofficially. But he was dead.

This one, #57, was edited by Wendy Purcell, a fine artist in the club. In the centre is an art portfolio, by her and others, dedicated to the issue's theme, "the women of Star Trek". I had a story in it, in case you're wondering. It was inspired by the episode "The Enemy Within" in which Captain Kirk is split into two separate people, one totally good, but wimpy, one totally nasty but decisive. My version was set in the nasty Mirror Universe.

I thought it might be fun to go through the table of contents and see who has gone on to bigger and better things.

Helen Sargeant, now known as Helen Patrice, contributed a short piece called "Beginnings". Helen later wrote quite a bit for a women's magazine, Australian Women's Forum. Okay, it was a DIRTY women's magazine - Helen always said that she was good at this particular form of writing and they paid well. Why not? More recently, she has released two volumes of science fiction poetry. Helen was a regular contributor to SPOCK and we even co-edited an issue once.

Tracey Oliphant eventually sold a five book fantasy series under the name Kate Jacoby(there was already a Tracey Oliphant on the publisher's books). Her contribution to this issue was called simply "Chess".

Geoff Allshorn isn't a writer as such these days, but is working on a Master's degree in history.

Robert Jan, another regular contributor, whose work in this issue is in the art portfolio,  concentrates on costuming, at which he is very good. He also has a long-running radio show about SF on community radio and interviewed me when Wolfborn came out. I think he may have had some art in the revised, updated edition of the Star Trek Concordance. His partner, Gail Adams, is also a wonderful artist. She has some illustrations in this issue and did the cover. Gail is also a costumer, who  produces costumes good enough to wear in the street. Both of them are well known in the fan community.

The biggest success is George Ivanoff who, after doing around sixty books for the education publishing industry, is gradually making a mark in the trade industry. In other words, he's making a living out of his writing, something rare in Australia. 

Art was contributed by Marianne Plumridge, some of whose paintings I am lucky enough to own. She married a well-known American cover artist and moved to the States, where she makes money out of her own artwork. 

There are others, in other issues, but this is the one I happen to have on me.

I love fan fiction, though not so much what I've read in recent years. Many of my high school students are regular readers of fan fiction online and some write their own. It's nice to know the old, old tradition is continuing and wonderful how much more you can read now, in any universe you like, but it's just not the same. I'm sorry, it's not. I loved the entire process of putting together a fanzine or picking up one at SF events or even from overseas. It was a community thing in a way it isn't now. I'd receive my contributor's copy fanzine and curl up in bed with it to read the latest adventures of whoever the characters were. I think these days the equivalent - at least here in Australia - is the small press stalls you see at every con.

To be honest, the fact that you CAN get so much fan fiction now is as much of a disadvantage as a good thing. It means you have to wade through  a good deal of rubbish before you find a story you enjoy. At least the print fanzines acted as a filter, through their editors. You soon got to know which ones were wonderful and which you'd never read again. 

And with most fan writers going under pen names it will be a lot harder to work out who has gone on to bigger and better things in the current generation of fan writers, though I'm assured it has happened. One successful YA novelist, I hear, once wrote Harry Potter fan fiction. 

I won't know about others, though, unless someone tells me.

Any fan fic fans out there? Anyone who can tell me about former fan writers who are now in print? 

**Just thought of one you have probably thought of too, but won't mention her name. You can, though. Go ahead!**

Saturday, August 09, 2014

The Aurealis Awards 2014

Remember I said I had this pile of goodies from Random House Australia to review? Well, I've just had a list of the entries so far in the Aurealis Awards and all five of them are on it.

I can still review them, but I will need to put a disclaimer on each review, so the authors don't think either that they've got no chance or that they're going to win for sure. Anything reviewed here is only my own opinion; there is a panel, that's one thing, and I have to judge it according to a set of criteria I've been given, that's another. And those may have nothing to do with my personal opinion of the book.

Just saying, okay?

Friday, August 08, 2014

Earthfall Has A New Cover

Two years go, I reviewed Earthfall, Mark Walden's new novel about alien invasion, here:

I even interviewed the author, whose wonderful  HIVE books I love, here: 


The lovely Sonia Palmisano at Bloomsbury has just sent me a copy of Earthfall with
 a new cover. Here's what it looks like. 



Very different from the War Of The Worlds-style original cover. This could be any 
after-the-holocaust novel, which might, perhaps, mean it  could appeal to a wider 
variety of readers. 

I wish Bloomsbury and the author many, many well-deserved sales on this, 
though what I REALLY want now is the sequel. :-)

Thursday, August 07, 2014

This Week's Goodies For Reviewing!

It's been a while since Random House Oz sent me anything, but today's parcel of goodies by wonderful Aussie children's writers more than makes up for it.

Billy Is A Dragon : First Bite, by Nick Falk and Tony Flowers, is for younger readers and looks like it I'll be fun.

There's Volume 1 and 2 of Brotherhood Of Thieves by Stuart Daly, author of the delightful Witchhunter Chronicles, of which I have read the first two volumes. Those were set in Renaissance era Europe, but this seems to be set in a fantasy world. I'll look forward to it, hoping it's as deliciously entertaining as his Witchhunter books, which were very funny as well as exciting. 

There is New City by Deborah Abela, a nice lady I sat next to at Supanova and watched her fans swarm her. This seems to be book 2 of a series, so I hope I can read it without having had to read the first.

And last but not least, volume. 4 of John Flanagan's Brotherband series, the spinoff from Ranger's Apprentice, set in the society of Skandia, that Scandinavia-equivalent, whose warriors are fabulous fighters but haven't a clue about strategy or tactics. The Heron Brotherband, the figurative - and literal -  bunch of kids whom nobody wanted to pick for their team, sailed off at the end of the first book after some bad guys who stole the community's most priceless artefact and... Well, read them. I admit I haven't got  around to Book 3, so I have downloaded that to read before this one.

Lots of good reading by local writers in the weeks to come! Yay! And then my students get to read them. Yay!